Jobless get states’ attention |

Jobless get states’ attention

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Maybe it was Tony Stanley’s furrowed brow that was keeping him from getting a job. Or maybe it was his work history in many fields instead of just one. Or maybe it was that he was aiming too high, or too low.

The 50-year-old Norwalk resident has worked in a mental health center and as a security company employee, but has been unemployed for almost a year, nearly six months longer than what the federal government defines as “long-term unemployment.” Imposing, athletic and impeccably dressed, Stanley picks up pocket change by refereeing high school basketball games, but he doesn’t have a full-time job.

The overall unemployment picture has improved consistently since the end of the Great Recession, but the plight of the long-term jobless has proven difficult to address. With federal help, states are taking steps to help this population: In mid-October, the Department of Labor handed out about $170 million in grants to 23 agencies in 20 states for programs targeting the long-term unemployed.

Some states are using the money to try new ideas, including New Jersey, which got money from the federal pot to add to its “Jobs4Jersey” training program, which includes a one-stop website with job training links and job leads, as well as a job-matching service for employers and potential workers.

Utah has tried to lure more employers to the state by keeping business taxes low and eliminating many business regulations. When the state is successful, it helps unemployed people pay for the training required to fill the jobs.

Stanley hopes to benefit from “Platform to Employment,” Connecticut’s five-week job readiness program, which includes behavioral health services, financial coaching and an eight-week subsidized work experience. One of things the program teaches participants is how to look attentive, but not hostile, in a job interview. During one seminar session, instructors singled out Stanley’s furrowed brow as a problem.

A powerful stigma

It’s no surprise that the long-term unemployed are discouraged. Studies have shown that the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is to find a job.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, one recent study that sent thousands of mock resumes to employers found that the longer a candidate had been unemployed, the less interested the employer was in interviewing the candidate. There was a particularly sharp drop in interest for candidates out of work more than six months.

Other studies have documented an employer bias. President Obama, in signing up 300 companies early this year to pledge to hire the long-term unemployed, called it a “cruel Catch-22. The longer you’re unemployed, the more unemployable you may seem.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in October there were 2.9 million people who had been unemployed for six months or longer, or 32 percent of the unemployed population. In contrast, during the severe recession of the early 1980s, the percentage of workers unemployed for six months or longer peaked at 26 percent in 1983.

Jobs that exist

New Jersey is using the $10 million in federal money it got in October, plus $2.5 million in state money, to operate its one-stop website and to pay for partnerships with community colleges and businesses.

“We really had to work together to help the long-term unemployed,” said Aaron Fichtner, New Jersey’s deputy labor commissioner. Fichtner said the idea is to understand the needs of industry and train workers to fill those needs. One pressing need is for workers to fill advanced manufacturing jobs, which require computer or high tech skills.

Bolstering business

A different model is at work in Utah, which has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the country. The state’s overall unemployment rate is 3.5 percent.

Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert set a goal in his January 2012 State of the State address of adding 100,000 jobs in Utah in 1,000 days. In August, he reported the state had added 112,200 jobs.

While Utah tackled the problem on many fronts, the governor aimed at building on his state’s “business friendly” climate, according to Michael Sullivan, director of communications for the governor’s office of economic development. Herbert decided to keep the corporate and personal income tax at 5 percent, slice state regulation of business and reach out to companies to lure them to Utah.

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